The Cleveland Browns may have the most improved defensive front in the NFL this season, but that doesn’t mean its members have stopped dreaming of new possibilities.
Case in point, defensive end Za’Darius Smith engaged in some interesting activity on X — the social media website formerly known as Twitter — on Sunday, September 3. A Browns podcaster posted a split-screen photo of Smith, DE Myles Garrett and DT Davlin Tomlinson that also included defensive tackle Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs and the caption “Imagine.” Jones is at risk of missing the Chiefs’ regular-season opener on Thursday against the Detroit Lions as he continues a holdout in hopes of procuring a new, long-term contract.
The prolonged standoff has led to trade speculation, which is precisely what the post on Sunday was — a “what if?” piece of conjecture that makes for a fun bar room argument, or potentially an ugly online comment section.
What made this particular post interesting, however, is that Smith replied directly to it. The Pro-Bowl edge rusher responded with the “👀” emoji, which fueled discussion about whether he was engaging in a little online recruiting or simply daydreaming of what could be on what is already a ferocious defensive front in Cleveland.
Chris Jones, Chiefs Still Far Apart on Contract Extension
While Jones to the Browns is pure speculation as of Sunday, the impasse between the four-time All-Pro and his team in Kansas City is very real.
Jones, now 29 years old, is about to enter the final season of a four-year, $80 million contract with the Chiefs. However, coming off of his fourth straight Pro-Bowl nod, Jones has said he’s willing to hold out until midseason and rack up all the fines that come along with that to secure his financial future.
An injury and/or a down year in 2023 could severely impact Jones’ bargaining power next spring. Also if he waits a season, Jones will be negotiating as a player in his 30s, which is a significant bench mark that NFL teams use to drive down contract values.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported on Saturday that the Chiefs most recently offered Jones a three-year extension worth $74 million.
“Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Chiefs have offered to replace the $19.5 million that Jones is due to earn in 2023 with $74 million over the next three years,” Florio wrote. “Of that amount, $70 million would be guaranteed for injury, with a lower amount fully guaranteed.”
While the money Kansas City is offering is significant, it only adds two years onto Jones’ current deal at an annual raise of around 20%. The DT has not accepted that deal and the number of years included in the offer may prove a non-starter for one of the best in the league at his position.
Browns Among Few Teams with Cap Space to Trade for Chris Jones
The longer the Chiefs come up short on their offers to Jones, the stronger the notion of a trade becomes.
Cleveland doesn’t need the upgrade after signing former Seattle Seahawks DT Shelby Harris in August, though the Browns are clearly all-in on trying to win over the next couple of seasons. The roster is already one of the most stacked and priciest in the NFL, which general manager Andrew Berry has addressed by restructuring the deals of several of his most expensive players.
Those moves will be costly down the line when the Browns are paying tabs on void years for players no longer wearing their uniforms. However, the maneuvers are clearing cap space in the present for Cleveland to extend the talent it already has on the roster and add more.
As of Sunday the Browns have $26.6 million in available space, which places them in a small category of teams that can afford to absorb Jones’ contract without making any financial adjustments.
Paying Jones what he wants over the course of the next four seasons, including 2023 — which is probably the length of contract it’s going to take to get the DT to agree to any deal — could prove tricky for Cleveland. That said, the timeframe is precisely the Super Bowl window the Browns have attempted to carve out for themselves.
So who knows? If everything bounces just right, perhaps Smith’s daydreams about Jones joining the defense in Cleveland could come true after all.